The following is based on a brief account by Dr Narayanan V, MBBS DCH, Chief Medical Officer of the Swami Vivekananda Medical Mission (SVMM)
Attappady is a remote region in Kerala. It is mainly populated by tribal hamlets, and many government and NGO health and social development projects there have had only limited success. Issues like severe anaemia, stillbirth, mental illness and alcohol addiction remain major concerns, and lack of training, poor returns from agriculture and inadequate community leadership greatly hamper development.
A group of local people formed this Mission as a charitable trust in 2004. A hospital was established in 2006 and a school became part of the Mission in 2010.
The hospital in Agali treats over 150 mainly tribal people daily, with multispecialty care - including x-ray, ultrasound, a dental clinic, a theatre and an ICU - free for tribal patients and at an affordable cost for others. There is free food for inpatients, and the number treated is steadily increasing.
Periodic outreach camps mean that symptoms are detected earlier, and with free cataract surgery SVMM’s monthly eye camps have restored sight to over 500. Countless children have been treated for severe malnutrition, and the Mission has started broader community projects to address specific tribal issues like mental illness, sickle cell anaemia, tuberculosis and alcoholism.
The school is Malleeswara Vidyanikethan. It gives free, good quality education to over 300 rural and tribal students up to the 10th grade, conducted in English and based on Indian values. The Mission also runs two skills development centres, providing vocational training in computing and also garment making, and in more than 50 villages there are initiatives like women’s self-help groups, educational resource centres and local development committees, all seeking to create healthy and self-sustaining tribal societies.
New enterprises, with support from Synergy
SVMM receives continuing support from the Synergy Marine Group, especially in the development of the school and wider community work. Despite nationwide curtailment due to the pandemic, there have been significant recent advances, as follows:
Four senior and experienced teachers joined last year (2020-21), thus adding many features to the curriculum and other activities such as a STEM learning programme and a weekly literary forum, and the coming academic year will see coaching in Kabaddi and athletics.
This team was strengthened by an overall Manager, Coordinators for each sector and Cluster Coordinators for every 10 villages. This has meant more structured planning, a greater number (and a wider variety) of activities, and also many new projects in each sector, on for example mental health, alcoholism, care of adolescent girls, NABARD-assisted cultivation of medicinal plants, empowerment of women and youth and skills development. It is important to remember that, while financial help is vital, the support from Synergy is not just that. It extends, too, to seeking assistance from other like-minded individuals and organisations, so the various needs become known to and supported by a wider base. Strong backing from philanthropic people and entities helps bodies like SVMM to broaden, develop and sustain their projects, and makes a profound impact on tribal life.